Florida becoming a center for identity theft
The crime of identity theft isn’t new. What’s new is its increasing frequency and the fact that it tends to be clustered in certain cities and certain states.
One state in particular.
“The largest number of complaints come from big metropolaton areas where there’s a high density of consumers,” said Stephen Ebbett, President of Protect Your Bubble, a non-traditional insurance company based in Atlanta. “What’s interesting, though, is when you look at the top 20 identity theft markets. Thirteen of the top 20 are in Florida.”
According to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accounting, Miami had more identity theft complaints last year than New York City – 35,914 to 23,297. Tampa logged 9,805 complaints, 2,300 more than Philadelphia. What is it about the Sunshine State that attracts so many identity thieves?
Government benefits link?
“One of the things we’re trying to understand is why Florida has such an epic problem,” Ebbett said. “One of the facts that we’ve unearthed is that 72% of fraud victims in Florida experience identity theft related to government documents and benefits.”
It’s not just elderly retirees who are being hit. College students are victims too.
“You’ve got a lot of universities down there,” Ebbett said. “You’ve also got a lot of people on both ends of the economic spectrum.”
The company has listed the 10 most dangerous U.S. metropolitan areas for identity theft, based on its analysis of FTC complaints:
Miami – 35,914
New York – 23,297
Los Angeles – 18,254
Atlanta – 12,992
Chicago – 11,128
Tampa – 9,805
Dallas – 9,056
Detroit – 8,085
Houston – 7,550
Philadelphia – 7,216
Protect Your Bubble is involved in identity theft awareness because it markets an insurance policy against identity theft, starting at $7.99 a month. Ebbett says it is a fast-growing segment of the business.
More sophisticated thieves
Consumers are increasingly vulnerable to identity theft for a variety of reasons. Identity thieves have more sophisticated methods and tools. The fact that more and more of daily life now occurs online can’t be overstated.
“Obviously electronic communication can be a factor,” Ebbett said. “Don’t open emails from people you don’t know. When you delete the email, make sure you delete it from your trash as well. Until you do, the file is still residing on your computer.”
While maintaining up-to-date anti-virus software on your PC is important, more and more people are doing their online business with their smartphones. Ebbetts says many overlook basic security measure.
“A lot of people don’t even lock their smartphones,” he said.
Be careful what you post on social media – it can be a bonanza for identity thieves. Make sure you’re using the strictest privacy settings and keep personal details to a minimum. Don’t post personal data like your address or phone number.
Old school methods still work
The old school methods of swiping your identity are also still very effective. Physical mail provides identity thieves a lucrative target. That’s why you should shred credit card and banking statements after you’ve reviewed them to keep that information from falling into the wrong hands.
When you need to mail a check, drop it off at the post office or into a secure mailbox so thieves can’t steal your mail and access account numbers.
The main reason to protect your identity is the cost of recovering it, in both money and time.
“One of the thing I want to stress to people is how time-consuming it is to repair your credit and recover your identity. We estimate the average time to be about 150 hours.”
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